William Cashen


William Cashen’s tale of his 1933 recruitment to the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines paints an archetypal picture of the era, the institution and its president.

After President Charles Bunnell convinced the young Juneau man to enroll, Cashen spent his entire career at the university. Cashen eventually was named university marshal — the only person ever granted that title — in recognition of his long, dedicated service. 

Cashen related his first meeting with Bunnell in the introduction to “Farthest North College President,” his classic biography of the university’s first chief executive.

Cashen, then just a year out of high school and casting about for work, had helped cut up  — for firewood — a stray log from a beach. He then learned the log probably came from a sabotaged raft at the local timber yard. Salvaging it was the Southeast Alaska equivalent of cattle rustling.

Cashen was terrified a few days later when a man in a black hat and top coat showed up at his family home. Cashen lit a cigarette, swaggered out and said gruffly, “What can I do for you?”

The visitor, Charles Bunnell, quietly explained that he had come to ask Cashen to attend the AACSM.

“Comes a time or two in every 18-year-old’s life when he wishes he had not been born,” Cashen said. Cashen said he was “so embarrassed by my appearance and my belligerence” that he wished Bunnell had, in fact, been the timber company man coming to accuse him.

Cashen, whose father worked in Juneau-area mines until his death two years earlier, had no money for college and felt he needed to stay in Juneau to help his mother. Bunnell offered him a job at the college if he would enroll. After a family discussion, Cashen raced to find Bunnell and accept his offer just as the president stepped onto a ferry to leave town.

It was the beginning of a long relationship.

After graduating in 1937, Cashen taught high school in Anchorage then returned as a math professor in 1942. He was one of just a few faculty members who signed on with the university even as World War II drew many others away. Those hired that year included such well-known professors as Woodrow Johansen, Ivar Skarland and Lola Tilly (a rehire who had been forced to resign in 1937 when she got married).

Cashen married his wife, Helen, in the mid-1940s, and they had two daughters.

Cashen retired in 1974 and died at home in Fairbanks in 1981. The UAF Alumni Association presents the William Cashen Service Award annually to recognize a person who has contributed greatly to the university.

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